Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (Luke 12:57)
I remember in Catholic grade school we were taught” let your conscience be your guide”. In those days I imagined an angel sitting on my left shoulder and the devil sitting on my right. The angel saying to me No! Carl No! and the devil encouraging me saying Go! Carl Go! Today, I have an adult version of the meaning of conscience. Conscience is the final practical judgment determining which actions are morally right or wrong; that is, which actions will fulfill a person and meet human needs in a balanced manner. Conscience comes from two Latin words “cum scientia” which means “with knowledge.” Conscience doesn’t mean flying by the seat of your pants or “a do-your-own-thing approach” to conscience.
“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time…judge for yourselves what is right” (verses 56, 57). How should you and I go about discerning what is right? We said the literal meaning of conscience is with knowledge. So here are the steps for discerning what is right: 1) Knowledge of the scriptures. Paul says” live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…with humility, gentleness, patience, compassionate love through the bond of peace.” ((Ephesians 4: 1-3) 2) Knowledge of the Catholic Church’s teachings pertaining to the issue you are trying to resolve. 3) Knowledge of scientific or essential elements of the issue you are trying to determine right or wrong. 4) A relationship and prayer life with God. 5) Being sincere; acknowledging your faults, failings and asking forgiveness 6) Being community minded and loving your neighbor as yourselves.
These six sources are the criterion for determining the answer to the question: Am I doing right? The tendency is to choose one source as a determinant of morality such as prove it to me from the bible.” We need all six in our search for truth and discerning what is right. Conscience formation is a lifelong journey. O Lord, grant me the grace and wisdom to judge what is right and holy.
Carl Middleton is a theologian/ethicist and a member of the Passionist Family.